Significant snowfall city Sapporo finds ways to keep its streets clear

This year’s most noteworthy snowfall may have been the 1,720 centimeters the fall in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California and Nevada. And that is, indeed, a lot of snow! But the stricken area is relatively sparsely populated.

Consider the situation of Sapporo on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. A city with a population of around 2 million, its average annual snowfall is around 500 centimeters. It is the only city in the world with a population of more than 1 million with such heavy snowfall.

That’s probably one reason Sapporo was one of the first cities in the world to host an annual Snow Festival.

© The 73rd Sapporo Snow Festival

In order for Sapporo to remain operational when it snows, it is imperative that its streets are cleared of snow quickly. Whenever the city receives more than 10 centimeters of snow, 1,000 vehicles are deployed to clear Sapporo’s 5,400 kilometers of roads and keep the city moving.

While there is a priority system to clearing the roads–for instance, clearing arterials and more densely populated areas first–, one of the biggest challenges the city faces is what to do with all that snow once it has been removed from the streets. In some areas it can be simply plowed to the side of the road, but on most streets there is no room to do that. In that case, often snow blowers are used to put the snow into dump trucks and haul the snow away completely.

But this poses problems of where to put all that snow. There are few areas in the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods where snow can be piled up. Trucking the snow to locations outside the city is neither time efficient nor environmentally sound.

One clever mechanism the city deploys to deal with the snow is snow melting tanks. The snow is dumped into tanks of treated sewage waste water, where it quickly melts and then flows out to sea.

At the Shinkawa facility in northwestern Sapporo, four loading bays have been built to handle dumping approximately 14,000 cubic meters of snow per day into the treated water. That’s about 1,000 truckloads. Other locations dotted around the city can similarly accept snow for melting in the same way.

This seems a great way to leverage treated waste water into a mechanism to dispose of Sapporo’s abundant snow and keep the city functional with minimal pollution or negative environmental impact.

© 2023 and Vicki L. Beyer
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